Contemporary Architecture


Variant Names Geoffrey Bawa’s House
Street Address 33rd lane, Bagatelle Road
Location Colombo, Sri Lanka
Architect/Planner Geoffrey Bawa
Date 1960-1998
Century 20th
Decade 1960s
Building Type Residential
Building Usage Private residence
Keywords Adaptive re-use; courtyard house

About the building:

  • About The house in 33rd Lane is an essay in architectural bricolage.
  • Elements salvaged from old buildings in Sri Lanka and South India were artfully incorporated into the evolving composition.
  • 1958 Bawa bought the third house in a row of four small houses.
  • He converted it into a pied-à-terre with living room, bedroom, tiny kitchen and room for a servant.
  • After some time he bought the fourth and this was colonized to serve as dining room and second living room.
  • Ten years later the remaining bungalows were acquired and added into the composition and the first in the row was converted into a four-storey tower.
  • Over a period of forty years the houses were subjected to continual change.
  • Although the plan form of the whole might at each stage have been thought to be simply the result of an arbitrary process of stripping away and adding, any accidental or picturesque quality has always been tempered by a strong sense of order and composition.
  • It was here that Bawa developed his interest in architectural bricolage.
  • The main part of the house is an evocation of a lost world of verandahs and courtyards assembled from a rich collection of traditional devices and plundered artifacts and the new tower which rises above the car port  rises from a  shady nether world to give views out across the treetops towards the sea
  • The final result is an introspective labyrinth of rooms and garden courts which together create the illusion of limitless space. Words like inside and outside lose all meaning: here are rooms without roofs and roofs without walls, all connected by a complex matrix of axes and internal vistas.


  • Geoffrey Manning Bawa
  • Born in 1919
  • In 1938 Geoffrey went to Cambridge to read English and later studied Law in London.
  • worked for some time in a Colombo law firm.
  • Soon tired from the legal profession
  • 1948 he came to a temporary halt in Italy where, seduced by its Renaissance gardens
  • He returned to Ceylon where he bought Lunuganga.
  • Wanted to make Lunuganga an Italian garden but laid bare his lack of technical knowledge
  • 1951 he began a trial apprenticeship with Edwards, Reid and Begg.
  • 1953 he applied to the Architectural Association School in London.
  • Finally qualified as an ARCHITECT in 1957 at the age of 38.


  • Geoffrey Bawa started in the firm of Edwards Reid and Begg.
  • His fellow partners from 1959 to 1967 were Jimmy Nilgiria and Valentine Gunesekera.
  • The Danish architect Ulrik Plesner joined the practice in 1959 and worked as a close collaborator with Bawa until the end of 1966.
  • After 1967 Bawa’s sole partner was Dr. K. Poologasundram who acted as engineer and office manager until the partnership was dissolved in 1989.
  • In 1990 Bawa founded  ‘Geoffrey Bawa Associates’.
  • Channa Daswatte acted as his principal associate from 1993 until 1998.


  • Highly personal in his approach, evoking the pleasures of the senses that go hand in hand with the climate, landscape, and culture of ancient Ceylon(Present day Sri Lanka).
  • Brings together an appreciation of the Western humanist tradition in architecture with needs and lifestyles of his own country.
  • The principal force behind TROPICAL MODERNISM.
  • Work with a sensitivity to site and context.
  • His designs break down the barriers between inside and outside, between interior design and landscape architecture.
  • He reduced buildings to a series of scenographically conceived spaces separated by courtyards and gardens.
  • His ideas are providing a bridge between the past and the future, a mirror in which ordinary people can obtain a clearer image of their own evolving culture


  • Pan Pacific Citation, Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1967)
  • President, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1969)
  • Inaugural Gold Medal at the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (1982)
  • Heritage Award of Recognition, for “Outstanding Architectural Design in the Tradition of Local Vernacular Architecture”, for the new Parliamentary Complex at Sri Jayawardenepura, Kotte from the Pacific Area Travel Association. (1983)
  • Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects
  • Elected Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (1983)
  • Conferred title of Vidya Jothi (Light of Science) in the Inaugural Honours List of the President of Sri Lanka (1985)
  • Teaching Fellowship at the Aga Khan Programme for Architecture, at MIT, Boston , USA (1986)
  • Conferred title Deshamanya (Pride of the Nation) in the Honours List of the President Sri Lanka (1993)
  • The Grate Master’s Award 1996 incorporating South Asian Architecture Award (1996)
  • The Architect of the Year Award, India (1996)
  • Asian Innovations Award, Bronze Award – Architecture, Far Eastern Economic Review (1998)
  • The Chairman’s Award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in recognition of a lifetime’s achievement in and contribution to the field of architecture (2001)
  • Awarded Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Ruhunu ( 14 th September 2002 )

“Every society possesses what is called an ‘image of the world’. This image has its roots in the unconscious structure of society and  requires a specific conception of time to foster it. The works and words of men are made of time, they are time, they are a movement towards this or that, whatever the reality the this or that designates, even if it is nothingness itself. Time is the depositary of meaning.”

A building can only be understood by moving around and through it and by experiencing the modulation and feel the spaces one  moves through it and by experiencing the modulation and feel of the spaces one moves through it end by experiencing the modulation and feel of the spaces one moves through- from the outside into verandah, than rooms, passages, courtyards.

Architecture cannot be totally explained but must be experienced.

– Geoffrey Bawa

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